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1 item from 2004

My Architect

9 July 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »


Mill Valley Film Festival

MILL VALLEY, Calif. -- Nathaniel Kahn, illegitimate son of the architect Louis I. Kahn, has created a beautiful, moving documentary about his father that should attract the same fervid audiences as Thomas Riedelsheimer's film on artist Andy Goldsworthy, "Rivers and Tides".

Like "Rivers and Tides" (or Agnes Varda's "The Gleaners and I"), "My Architect" examines an artist's aesthetic, but Nathaniel Kahn also is searching for the artist himself and trying to define a relationship with a father he little knew. Louis Kahn died ignobly in 1974 of a heart attack in a Penn Station bathroom, deep in debt. He left behind a wife and a daughter, a mistress and another daughter and a second mistress and a son, Nathaniel.

Louis Kahn was trained in the Beaux-Arts style at Yale, but it was ancient architecture that inspired his own vision. Kahn felt that architecture should be monumental, ceremonial, even holy. His Salk Institute for Biological Sciences overlooks the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, Calif., like some ancient maritime temple. The arched corridors of the Kimbell Art Center in Fort Worth, Texas, unfold behind a tranquil reflecting pool like mystical berms.

His difficult personality and work style may have severely limited the number of commissions Kahn received. "Artists don't get jobs", the architect Philip Johnson explains to Nathaniel. Frank Gehry proclaims that Lou was "a mystic who couldn't speak the language of business." The genial I.M. Pei reassures Nathaniel that "three or four masterpieces are better than 50 or 60 buildings." The filmmaker later shows a gorgeous stop-motion sunset over the Salk Institute that reiterates these artists' praise.

To paraphrase what Pauline Kael wrote of the young Nicolas Cage, Louis Kahn was an architect before he was a human being. His son suffered for this, yet Nathaniel's picture isn't about anger. "My Architect" is tinged with sorrow, compassion, forgiveness and, ultimately, love. More than 25 years after his father's death, Nathaniel visits his father's architectural works and speaks to the people who knew him: cabbies, colleagues, lovers and relatives. Kahn possesses a gentle but firm interviewing style and a generosity with his subjects that lets them open up.

Nathaniel continually attempts to define family, meeting with his two half sisters and asking if they are a family. "Yes", they answer, "if we choose to care about each other, then we're a family." And when he interviews his own mother, Harriet Pattison, he learns something essential about love and the mysterious forms it takes.

The movie is a tad long at 116 minutes, and there are one or two questionable music choices (Beethoven's Ninth, playing over images of the Kimbell museum, is too bombastic for the tone of the film), but the film captures the immense importance of architecture to the people it serves. The Bangladeshi architect Shamsul Wares, who worked with Kahn on the phenomenal National Assembly Hall in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a serene and mighty citadel, proclaims that Louis "gave us democracy." Louis, Wares explains, "loved everybody, but to love everybody, sometimes you don't see the closest ones." Nathaniel Kahn tries his best to love one who should have been closer, and ends up loving everybody right along with his father.


New Yorker Films

Louis Kahn Project


Director-writer: Nathaniel Kahn

Producers: Nathaniel Kahn, Susan Rose Behr, Yael Melamede, John Hochroth, Judy Moon, Phyllis Kaufman

Executive producers: Susan Rose Behr, Andrew Clayman, Darrell Friedman

Director of photography: Bob Richman

Music: Joseph Vitarelli: Editor: Sabine Krayenbuhl

Narrator: Nathaniel Kahn

Running time -- 116 minutes

No MPAA rating »

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1 item from 2004

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